The dormant Tom Clancy cinematic universe got a shot of adrenaline in 2018 when it was announced that Michael B. Jordan would headline a new series featuring the Jack Ryan-adjacent character John Kelly, aka John Clark, a SEAL-trained soldier who leads his own counterterrorism unit. While Kelly had a supporting role in two previous Clancy features — 1994's Clear and Present Danger and 2002's The Sum of All Fears — he's flying solo in Without Remorse, which premieres on Amazon's Prime Video on April 30. More significantly, Jordan is the first Black actor to portray a role that had previously been played by white performers, including Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber.
While the reaction to Jordan joining the Clancyverse was largely positive, there were readers who weren't ready for the change. Jordan's casting was hotly debated on a Reddit thread, with one user arguing that the filmmakers weren't "respecting the source material." Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Jordan makes it clear he doesn't concern himself with what Clancy traditionalists might think about how the movie brings the character, and his larger world, into the present day. (Watch our video interview above.)
"I can't think about that," the Black Panther star says. "I saw an opportunity to be involved in the Tom Clancy universe, one that I've been familiar with as a kid playing the Rainbow Six video games. I saw this property as an opportunity to give a fresh take to John Kelly, and make this movie a little bit more modern and represent a little bit more of the world we live in today. To be able to tell this story is something I'm extremely excited about and I hope the Tom Clancy fans and John Kelly fans out there can see the movie and really enjoy it."
This isn't the first time that Jordan has challenged Hollywood's long-entrenched casting conventions. In 2015, he played Johnny Storm — better known as the Human Torch — in Josh Trank's ill-fated reboot of Marvel's first family, the Fantastic Four, another character who had long been portrayed as white. The hostile reaction from some corners of fandom to Jordan's presence in the film was swift and intense.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment last year, Trank remembered how Marvel icon Stan Lee insisted the filmmaker stick to his vision for the character. "I said, 'I think Michael B. Jordan is the best actor for this character, but I can see that there might be backlash from certain fans.' And [Stan] said to me: 'Who cares about what they have to say? That’s really inspired casting — I love it.'"
Fantastic Four may have been a fantastic flop, but Jordan and Trank broke a barrier that other comic book adaptations soon followed, whether it was Jason Momoa becoming the first biracial Aquaman or Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And Jordan suggests he's not going to let the complaints of a few fanboys hold him back from continuing to pursue comic book roles he's passionate about.
"Being a huge comic book fan, I'm going to continue to dive into that space and that world," says Jordan, who reportedly tried to interest Warner Bros. in a Black Superman project in 2019. (In February, the studio announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates and J.J. Abrams would be collaborating on a new Superman film that would likely star a Black Man of Steel.) "Whether it's for myself or creating opportunities like Static Shockfor somebody else, it's part of being a filmmaker and a storyteller. So that [controversy] is for you guys to ask questions and worry about, while I just put my best foot forward and tell honest stories."
Although Jordan downplays any connection to the current Superman reboot, his Without Remorse co-star Lauren London has a role she'd love to play as Hollywood diversifies its superhero ranks: Superwoman. Asked whether movies like Without Remorse help challenge the industry's traditional casting methods, the actress draws a distinction between "tradition" and "inclusivity." "It was never traditional … they just weren't including us," London points out. "I think inclusion on all fronts is important. Entertainment should represent everybody, because everybody watches entertainment."
For her part, Jodie Turner-Smith — who plays Kelly's friend and fellow SEAL Karen Greer — believes films like Without Remorse are having an impact. "The buzzwords at the moment are diversity and inclusion, and no matter what people's intentions are with that, at the very least it is pushing the conversation forward and giving opportunity to many more different kinds of humans to tell stories and be featured in stories. In many ways we're making up for lost time, but we're doing something that ultimately everybody is going to enjoy."
And it's worth noting that Turner-Smith is breaking her own barriers. The actress recently played Anne Boleyn in a British TV series that will be released later this year. Her casting follows on the heels of Netflix's blockbuster period series Bridgerton, which took a color-blind approach in its casting. "It's great to see a show be wildly successful in the way Bridgerton was, and have it featuring actors of color in roles that would have traditionally gone to actors that were white," Turner-Smith says. "Obviously with Anne Boleyn, it's a bit more controversial because she's a historical figure, but the intention is the same. Actors of color have so long been erased and that's why it's important to not continue to erase them and allow them to tell whatever stories they want to tell."
Without Remorse premieres April 30 on Prime Video.
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee
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